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Considerations for Recreation in Youth Ministry
By: Ken Sapp

Recreation is an incredible tool for youth ministry. While games may not be overtly spiritual, they are a very powerful teaching tool to condense many of the realities of life down into a short period of time. The way we respond in games often reflects how we deal with the realities of life. They reveal our attitudes, our strengths, our weaknesses, the ways we communicate and relate to other people, our ability to lead, the way we deal with challenges, rules, and difficulties. They show our approach to solving problems, and, maybe most importantly, they show our reactions to a variety of circumstances. When the pressure is on, what comes out (actions, words, mindsets, and believes) often reveals the most about us.

As youth and youth workers work and play together, they learn to help one another, share possessions, overcome fears, draw closer to God, open up, and even risk sharing about themselves with the group. Hassles do occur, but they serve as catalysts for growth and sharing and force individuals to move beyond superficial relationships. Regular sports and games often present many of life’s problems in capsule form. The factors of stress, competition, rules to be followed, success and failure, and cooperation in a team effort are common to sports, games, daily life, and Christian living both inside the church and outside it.

As such, recreation should not be focused on the event, the program, the game. Instead, it should be focused on the people and creating opportunities for them to grow spiritually and relationally. Relationships are of vital importance to God and should be an integral part of youth ministry. It’s about people, not programs. When the programs become the focus, they too easily become gimmicks to get people to come to the youth group.

In addition to nurturing relationships, recreation has emotional and psychological benefits to youth, as well as the obvious physical benefits to their health. Recreation can help alleviate stress among youth. Highly charged recreational activities, which allow the youth to “cut loose,” may help get the attention of youth off their worries and onto God and spiritual truths. Poor self-esteem or self-image is one of the most widespread issues facing teens today. Recreation can help alleviate problems of self-image by providing an opportunity for youth to express hidden abilities and talents.

Many games can also be structured to become metaphors for life and spiritual truth. Games involving water can be used to springboard into lessons on the "Living Water." In fact, the concept of a race is explicitly mentioned several times in the Bible to illustrate spiritual truths. Games in which youth are blindfolded become metaphors on spiritual blindness. The possibilities are as numerous as the games people play.

Recreation can be used in a variety of ways and for a variety of purposes:

* It can be an effective means to loosen up the group.
* It can help break up cliques and draw shy people into the group.
* It may help prevent discipline problems that usually are a result from boredom, misdirected energy, or unused creativity.
* It can be combined with fundraising, such as walk-a-thons, jog-a-thons, and even work-a-thons. Recreation may take the form of ministry to others as service projects and workdays.

Things to Consider
In order for recreation to most effectively minister and encourage the highest number of youth, it should de-emphasize athletic ability, individual performance, and "winning at all costs." There are six factors to avoid in planning recreation for youth:

* Make sure no one is left out
* Beware of negative reinforcement
* Beware of mismatching youth
* Beware of creating psychological stress
* Beware of setting youth up for failure
* Beware of over-organization

In light of these, youth recreation must:

* Emphasize group effort
* Encourage total participation
* Provide fun for all
* Present as many “everyone wins” situations as possible
* Mix planned activities with free time
* Emphasize the team and not the individual

Initiative and cooperative games, which emphasize group problem-solving, make the problem the opponent instead of another person or team. The conquering of these problems as a team effort:

* Builds unity and a sense of group identity
* Promotes communication
* Encourages cooperation
* Develops trust among team members

A recreational activity must include as many safety precautions as possible. The age of the group is a factor because different ages of youth will enjoy different games. Also, at younger age groups, some youth may lack physical coordination and skill for highly competitive sports.
Even though girls can engage in most of the same activities with boys, some activities are best not used with coed groups, especially those that involve highly physical interaction. Also, girls do not necessarily enjoy male-dominated sports such as football.

The size of the group is important. It is difficult to have a volleyball game with two people. Other games and recreational activities may be inappropriate for large groups.

The personality of the group, its likes and dislikes is another important factor. The best game is one that works for your specific group of youth.

Ken Sapp has nearly 20 years of youth ministry experience with teens from around the world. You can visit him on the Web at www.creativeyouthideas.com.

Gymnasium Protection from Floor to Ceiling
By Chuck Louer

There are a lot of products that go into making your church gymnasium a safer place. Gyms are full of running, jumping, and climbing people. You can add to the functionality and safety of your gym by adding the following products.

Gym Wall Pad System
An affordable gym wall pad system provides solutions to making your gym a safer place. Manufacturers offer premium quality systems for protecting indoor and outdoor impact areas. Padding may be required for many different areas…any space within the gym that needs protection.

Gym Divider Curtains
Several different materials are available for this purpose, including mesh material, netting, solid vinyl, or any combination of each. A combination can include a curtain at the bottom (for visceral control and heavy abuse) combined with a mesh top, which allows for ventilation and lighting. Choices include walk draw curtains or motorized ones.

Gym Floor Covers
Are all vinyl created equal? Most people compare vinyl by weight only. Experts don’t. They investigate and select products based on their unique application. Quality gym floor covers are designed to have more coating on top and less at the bottom to provide a better gripping action on the floor.

Gym floor covers require ingredients that resist abrasion, rips, tears, dirt, stains, odor, and are flame-retardant. Many different strength choices are available..
Mobile Storage Racks
Using a mobile storage rack system enables two people to install or retrieve a full court cover in about 30 minutes. To install, roll the rack to one corner of the area to be covered and pull out the first cover section. Roll the rack to the edge of that section and lay the second section. Repeat until surface is covered.

Chuck Louer is with All Court Covers, www.allcourtcovers.com.


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